The Bucks enter a pivotal offseason where they have already made a vital coaching decision and franchise altering roster moves, as they attempt to force open their contention window in 2019. The Bucks have seemingly made the transition from bad to good, but have struggled to go from good to great. The loss to the Celtics may have aged well with their quick dismantling of the 76ers in round two and looking competitive thus far against the Cavs, that said this year cannot help but feel like a lost one for Bucks fans. Not only should the Bucks have beaten the Celtics, they should not have been in a position to play them in the first round. They need to be better going forward if they want to break this franchises tradition of first round exits. With the hiring of Mike Budenholzer, Jason Kidd is now firmly in the rearview mirror. The Bucks look to be in a good place moving forward, with a head coach in place that knows his stuff. With a new coach in place, Jon Horst can turn his attention to some other pressing questions in regards to the future of this Bucks team.
There are a few key questions surrounding this roster:
- Can this roster be a top 5 or even top 10 defense?
- What can the Bucks get from the lead guard spot? Is Bledsoe the long term answer?
- Is center a problem for this team?
- Will Jabari Parker be back? If so what is his role?
The Bucks have been a bottom half of the league defense the last three seasons, despite having some strong defensive personnel. A large part of this is seemingly Jason Kidd’s fault, his defensive scheme was dated, and he failed to adjust it accordingly. Instead placing blame on the player’s poor energy level. The acquisition of Eric Bledsoe was expected to propel the defense to new heights, but the defense stayed below average. Budenholzer noted in his press conference, that with Antetokounmpo this team needs to be better defensively. He believes that Giannis is a special defensive talent and that the Bucks can be elite defensively. They will likely go with a switch heavy defense that favors their relative size a lot better than this trapping did. The staff outside of Antetokounmpo will all benefit from some good coaching as well, especially in terms of defensive discipline. It will be curious to see what the staff can get out of Jabari Parker on that end if he is back, but more on that later.
The Bucks have not had consistent point guard play this decade. Simply put they need to get better there, the acquisition of Bledsoe was supposed to help, but in the postseason he disappeared altogether. In theory Bledsoe is an athletic lead guard that can get into the paint, score, facilitate, and defend. In practice he is often less than the sum of his parts and has stretches where he looks invisible.
His defense wanes, because he gambles on that end and becomes disengaged. He shot a career high from 3 in Milwaukee this season, including some clutch 3s late in games. If the Bucks would decide that Bledsoe is not the answer, then ideally they would move him as soon as possible. A better fit would be someone a little more accomplished as a shooter, with a slightly better shot profile and a little closer to Giannis in age. Brogdon might not have the dynamic athleticism that Bledsoe has, but is his fit good enough to overlook that? He showed some new skills last season, but the injury derailed any second year breakout hopes. Otherwise they might have to look to move both or one of these guys in any transaction for a guy like Kemba Walker.
They also need to make a decision on whether or not they need an upgrade at the center position. Well fans will point out the rebounding issues this team had and scream yes, but historically rebounding does not factor into whether or not your team can win. There have been 60 win teams in the bottom 5 of rebounding, but also in the top 5. They need to know whether or not they can play winning basketball with either John Henson or Thon Maker as their guy. Thon looked the part in the playoffs, but if he cannot be a little more consistent they cannot play him 25+ minutes a game. If they do not believe in Thon long term they could look to draft or acquire a center this summer. With the way the league looks to be headed, I doubt they make another expensive center a priority after how the Greg Monroe signing aged. There simply isn’t room for a pricey center in the modern NBA, if he is not a dominant force on both ends.
The Jabari Parker conundrum might be the most difficult one, signing him basically prohibits any big free agency activity going forward. Which is a difficult thing to do for a guy with two ACL tears in four seasons, that has never been a net positive on the court. Coach Budenholzer has in his brief career as head coach gotten the most conceivable out of perimeter wings with similar albeit lesser skillsets than Jabari. If he can get Parker to just be a below average defender instead of abysmal, the Bucks could have a real player on their hands. Parker has already shown his ability to put the ball in the basket, and his jumper has shown a lot of improvement since his first two years in the league. What is the magic number for Jabari though? There was the rumored to be offered 3/54m deal before the season that Jabari said he never received. I think at this point the Bucks would have to get him for somewhere less than 15m a year for him to a chance at being moveable and even that could be high. Thankfully there is not a ton of cap space available to potential Parker suits this summer, which could drive down his price a bit. If we do see Parker return, here is to hoping his deal looks like Stephen Curry’s last one where the team gets a steal, because of injury concerns.
The aforementioned issues all need to be figured out before the Bucks can take that leap into contention. They might choose to move on at certain positions, or change some things structurally under Budenholzer, they have a year or two to figure it out before the Giannis clock is truly expiring. Starting next year no playoff first round losses will be met with anything besides mockery nationally. If Lebron leaves the East expectations will be heightened even further. The Celtics will become the team to beat, the Bucks need to figure out where they fall in the pecking order. They need to figure out if the roster needs to be turned over in between now and 2020, figure out who stays and who goes amongst the current core. Use their other avenues to improve on the margins as currently constructed, and let Budenholzer work some of his player development magic.